Scott Miller and the Commonwealth Get Set to Rock Twangfest 7 Into the History Books
Singer. Songwriter. Fighter of Floods?
Clearly, Scott Miller is a modern-day renaissance man. As we talked, Miller sopped up the temporary well also known as his basement in Knoxville (pronounced knocks-vul in East Tennessee).
“Yeah, we had about six inches of rain in 36 hours. They said all our reservoirs are full, so I decided to keep as much as I could in my fuckin’ basement,” said Miller in his playful Southern drawl.
St. Louis can see Miller at work sopping up the last moments of this year’s Twangfest on June 7, at midnight at Blueberry Hill.
Miller is equal parts jester and genius. Before graduating from William and Mary with a degree in Russian and history, Miller put his college’s career services department to the test. “I walked in there a few weeks before I graduated and I was like ‘Hey, how do I get a job with the post office?’” Miller said with a chuckle.
At the onset of his musical career, Miller put this gruff wit to use delighting audiences on the singer/songwriter circuit across the Mid-South. Early in his career, Miller joined forces with a talented group of Knoxville musicians to form the V-Roys. Critics and radio programmers struggled to find a category for the band. Equal parts bang and twang, the V-Roys found their home in the alt-country bins like countless other bands that defied labels. (Let the record state, Scott Miller does not own a single Uncle Tupelo album.)
The band eventually signed to Steve Earle’s E-Squared label and produced two solid LP efforts, Just Add Ice and All About Town, and a live swan song, Are You Through Yet? The band faded into Knoxville’s collective memory with a marathon farewell concert at the turn of the millennium.
Miller considers the whole V-Roys experience a time of learning. “That was the first rock ’n’ roll band I was in. Before that, I was solo, the obnoxious singer/songwriter guy. I learned how to plug in the guitar,” said Miller. “A lot of how the business is screwy was pretty quickly learned. Didn’t faze me, though.”
A Commonwealth of Knowledge
Since his time with the V-Roys, Miller has progressed as a songwriter and frontman. He now records and tours as Scott Miller and the Commonwealth. “It’s all on my shoulders now,” Miller says. The Commonwealth’s latest incarnation consists of Miller on guitar and vocals, Shaun McWilliams on drums, Eric Fritsch on keyboards, and Clark Chisholm on bass. Upside Downside finds the ensemble creating a body of songs that, Miller said, “sound more like me than anything I’ve ever done.”
Miller continues to grow more comfortable with his niche. “I didn’t make it for radio; I tried to make a record you can sit down and put your third eye on, listen to and it’ll take care of you,” said Miller “It’s an album you can let go in the background and make spaghetti to.”
The album features a guest appearance by singer/songwriter Patty Griffin. “She can still write better than anybody,” Miller said. “Then she can sing it better than anybody.”
In addition, Miller got legendary fiddle player Tim O’Brien into the studio again. “You know, I worked with Tim on my last record,” Miller added. “For years I was a pure knucklehead about him, bumper sticker and all. Still, I’m always like, ‘Gaw, you’re so good.’”
After yielding some creative control to producers in the past, Miller took a seat alongside bandmate Eric Fritsch in the producer’s chair for this latest recording session. “This was finally a chance for me to show my limitations right out there in front of everybody,” says Miller. “I tried to model it after my two favorite Neil Young records: On the Beach and American Stars and Bars. It’s as analog as it can be in this day and age.” Miller later poked fun at himself, noting, “Here I model after albums that are Neil Young’s lowest-selling.”
The album should provide enough sad songs to fill beer mugs and enough rockers to peel paint in the Duck Room. “Can we turn our guitars up loud and have a good time there?” Miller asked. When he found out Blueberry Hill is a regular home to Chuck Berry, Miller quipped, “Fuckin’ A. Then we’ll be fine.”
The Road Ahead
In spite of the bumps in the road, Miller is hopeful for the future and excited to tour behind the new record. He admitted, “I still don’t think I’ve written my best songs, and I still think there are better ways to produce me, and I am hoping that I get a chance.”
Miller admits if, given his druthers, he would have the career of Shakira. “I would just stare at my own ass,” he joked. But he’s quick to ask, “She writes her own songs, doesn’t she?”
Miller also has an ingenious recipe for an artist who would make it to the mainstream. Take one unnamed part of Shakira, add one part Avril Lavigne for attitude, and a little Jerry Lee Lewis to “keep it real.” The result is a new subgenre Miller dubbed “pure-ass porn rock.”
“Forget alt-country,” he said, laughing. “I wanna be porn rock.”
“I’d like to think it’s all about good songs,” Miller later conceded, “no matter what genre.”
Labels aside, Scott Miller and the Commonwealth will close out Twangfest 7 on Saturday, June 7, at midnight in Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room. The new album from Scott Miller and the Commonwealth, Upside Downside, is due out June 10.